Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

July 19, 2012

Kernels of truth: 'Perfect Popcorn' book

By Judy Wakefield
Staff Writer

Former Andover resident John Beigel has written the book on popping corn. Literally, he so loves popcorn he's written a 174-page book on the subject.

Mixing his physics curiosity with his popcorn passion, Beigel created a book that pops with reasons not to microwave the popular snack ever again.

"The lining of those microwave bags has acid - perfluorooctanic acid," said Beigel, now of Cape Cod. "It's been found that this acid can cause cancer."

Beigel lived on Summer Street from 1972 to 1981 and enjoyed his popcorn passion there, frequently making the snack and even hosting Friday night popcorn dinners.

But, he never microwaved his popcorn because he considers it so unhealthy.

In addition to acid, many microwave popcorn types have lots of artificial ingredients, like diacetyl. Diacetyl is used as an artificial butter taste and Beigel said it can cause asthma attacks.

And this writer knows his kernels. As a physicist and CEO at high-tech companies, he earned two advanced degrees from the University of Massachusetts while perfecting his popcorn. He's been popping popcorn for 40 years and still makes popcorn for dinner on Friday night for himself and his wife, Natalie.

His new book, "Making Perfect Popcorn" (McOsprey Publishing, $16.95) cites a 2008 Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center study with animals that reveals the acid information. The acid turns to gas at around 300 degrees and popcorn kernals need to hit 410 to 450 degrees to pop. The result is a dangerous vapor, Beigel said.

"Gas spreads on the popcorn and can be inhaled with the steam given off during cooking," Beigel said.

The yummy aroma of a just-opened bag of microwaved popcorn is enticing to smell but unhealthy, Beigel said.

The easy solution is to make the popcorn yourself. Beigel's book is complete with instructions on the best way to do that.

The 16 easy-to-read chapters break down every area of popping including the best cooktops (gas); the proper pot (thin-bottomed, thin-walled aluminum or stainless steel potato pot); the best oil (corn and soy bean vegetable oil); and best storage for any leftover popcorn (zip-lock freezer bags).

"I have been on the internet, checked popcorn-making on You Tube and what's out there motivates me because so much information is wrong," Beigel said.

Popcorn king Orville Redenbacher just might have to step aside as Beigel's book is very informative and enjoyable. Even klutzes in the kitchen will enjoy it as his tips are easy to digest.